The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 7/5/2017 Reception Problems; Trump to meet with Putin Friday
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: July 5, 2017
Guest: Michael McFaul, Shane Harris
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: Lynn Sweet and Ben Howe, thanks for being with
That is “ALL IN” for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy fifth of
July, I hope you had a little time off for the holiday.
It is nice to be back. It`s nice to have you here.
When the Republican presidential primary process started for this past
presidential election cycle, it started on the Republican side with a very
clear favorite. I mean, just as strongly as Hillary Clinton was favored to
be the Democratic nominee, on the Republican side, from the outset, the
Republican nomination was seen as Jeb Bush`s to lose, right?
Jeb Bush had universal name recognition. His father had been president.
His brother had been president. They both supported him and were working
their considerable Republican political networks to try to help sew up the
nomination for good old Jeb.
Jeb also started running very early. In the fall of 2014, he was already
signaling that he was going to run for 2016. He very quickly built up the
largest financial war chest in the Republican primary. He stacked up $100
million right off the bat.
And now, looking back on that effort, we remember of course how badly it
ended for Jeb Bush. The first contest in the Republican primary was in
Iowa. He didn`t break 3 percent in Iowa.
Next up was New Hampshire. He came in fourth place in New Hampshire.
South Carolina was next, members of the Bush family who are running for
president almost always win in South Carolina. The only exception I think
was George H.W. Bush losing there to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Other than
that, all Bushes win in South Carolina.
This year, not only did Jeb Bush not win in South Carolina. He didn`t
crack double digits in South Carolina. So then he was out.
Usually when somebody does badly in a presidential primary, despite having
raised a lot of money, you can usually explain how badly they did by
calculating how much money they had to raise and spend for every delegate
they ended up getting in the overall process. In Jeb Bush`s case, you
can`t even do that math, because you can`t divide by zero. You can`t even
divide $100 million by zero. His candidacy was just a gigantic bonfire of
Republican donor money.
But you know what? It did not just go bad for him at the end. It I think
is helpful to remember that it was really bad for him from the start. It
was bad from launch.
They had all these months to prepare for his campaign launch date in June
2015. But everything around it just went bad. I mean, you might remember,
for example, that instead of releasing a typical politician, you know,
glossy autobiographical book like a lot of top tier candidates do at the
start of a campaign, instead Jeb Bush got creative and released a bound
version of his correspondence with his constituents from the time that he
had been governor of Florida.
The idea was to show how, you know, detail oriented he was, how hands-on,
how accessible he was to the residents of Florida when he was their
governor. People could individually e-mail him about stuff. He would
individually write people back about things going on in the states and
trying to solve people`s problems.
The problem was they collated and bound released those e-mails. They have
a nice cover, with a nice cover photo. They added a sort of glossy, well-
written introduction from Jeb Bush himself.
But it apparently never occurred to anybody to go through all the e-mails
and make sure that people`s individual private security information was
redacted, like people`s Social Security numbers, they`re addresses, their
phone numbers, their detailed descriptions of their medical problems. All
of those things were still included in the e-mails when they were collated
and published as Jeb Bush`s book. They put that book out initially with
all that personal information for people in there. Then they had to go
back retroactively after the fact and try to “x” all that stuff out.
In terms of launch date itself for the Jeb Bush campaign, almost nobody
remembers the details of that day at all, because within 24 hours, his
campaign launch speech was stomped on and totally eclipsed in the press by
another guy launching his presidential campaign the very next day.
But there was one other thing that they planned for the launch of Jeb
Bush`s campaign that just went terribly wrong. And I think we are now
today getting the payoff from what that was. It of course ended up being
unfortunate for Jeb Bush that his campaign kickoff butted right up against
Donald Trump`s much splashier campaign kickoff.
But from the perspective of the Bush campaign, the timing of the Bush
launch had been very carefully thought out. Maybe they didn`t think very
much about Donald Trump also launching at that time. But they had reason
to launch him, launch Jeb, on June 15th. And that`s because right before
June 15th, Jeb Bush would be returning from what the campaign expected to
be a triumphant European tour.
The visuals would be perfect. Yet another member of the familiar Bush
family confidently striding through world capitals, meeting world leaders.
Jeb Bush had been doing that sort of world traveling, you know,
protodiplomacy for years, for decades, as his father`s son and his
brother`s brother. Now, he`d be doing it on his own terms.
The idea was to be able to imagine him as president. His campaign at that
point was built around the idea that he would be a tough guy on foreign
policy, that the Obama administration had been terribly weak on foreign
policy and the Jeb Bush campaign would be strong and tough, and nobody
would mess with him on the world stage once Jeb Bush was back in charge.
I`m quite sure the Jeb Bush campaign thought this European tour would
produce a bunch of positive Jeb news, definitely a bunch of good headlines,
good visuals. And they planned to roll right out of that big European trip
momentum and into his big I am definitely running for president speech.
The problem is, in the lead up to that trip to Europe, it did not go very
well. One of the three places Jeb Bush visited was Poland. The long term
ruling party in Poland is basically very pro-American, even on
controversial issues, Poland had gone out of its way to support the U.S.
government. Jeb`s brother, President George W. Bush, famously told
everybody to remember Poland when he was talking about the coalition of
nations he put together to invade Iraq back in 2003.
But by the time Jeb Bush got to Poland in June of 2015 in this big trip
that was designed to kick off his presidential campaign, by June 2015, when
Jeb got there, Poland`s ruling party had been in trouble at home for a
while. And there were a lot of different things going on in their politics
to explain it, their politics are just as complex as ours. But the
dramatic, salacious thing that had been going on in Poland, that had become
the riveting center of Polish politics, is that somebody had started
bugging all of the most expensive restaurants in Warsaw, in the capital
I don`t know if it was a microphone in flower arrangements, maybe it was
waiters who are operating as secret spies. Still to this day, as far as I
understand it, nobody really knows how they did it. But in multiple high
end restaurants in Warsaw, there were microphones. There were recording
And high-ranking politicians all over Warsaw in these expensive
restaurants, they were recorded, talking over expensive meals about all
sorts of stuff they should not have been talking about. It`s not like they
were talking about killing anybody or something, but it was like the ugly
side of politics that politicians never want anybody to know about. They
were trading political favors. They were undermining their leadership.
They were talking smack about people not at the table, they were
politicizing stuff like actions of the central bank which are things that
should not be subject to political negotiations.
A lot of truly embarrassing recordings of all these top politicians from
the ruling party in Poland, and the truly red-hot recording from those
restaurant tapes was of their foreign minister, the equivalent of our
secretary of state. And this guy is very well-known in his country. He
represents a pro-America political party in Poland. He himself is seen as
being particularly pro-Western, pro-American. A lot of people thought of
him as a future president or prime minister.
And over a very expensive meal at this restaurant in Warsaw, this guy, a
foreign minister, supposedly so pro-American, he was recorded saying that
Poland`s alliance with the United States is bull – I can`t say it, bull
stuff, bullpucky. He said Poland`s alliance with the United States is,
quote, worthless. He said, quote, we`ll get into a conflict with the
Russians or the Germans and we`ll think it`s super because we gave the
Americans a blow – I can`t say this either. We gave Americans a blow –
we gave – we gave the Americans a blow, and then there`s another
And then at one point, either talking about America or talking about Polish
politicians who want to maintain this relationship with America, it`s kind
of hard to tell, he finished up by saying in this recording, he finished up
by saying, losers, complete losers.
So, he`s the foreign minister of Poland when he`s saying these things.
Publicly, he`s super pro-United States, right? The biggest proponent there
is of Poland and America having a close allied relationship. But in
private, that`s how he`s talking about the United States.
And that scandal had been bubbling for a while in Poland, until finally, in
the summer of 2015, in June, it boiled over. I mean, these tapes had been
circulating for a while. But in June 2015, a kind of crack pot, right
wing, anti-immigrant, would-be politician in Poland miraculously came upon,
he says he discovered online more than 2,000 pages of secret documents from
the government`s internal investigation into those tapes.
We have no idea how that guy got those documents. They did seem to be real
documents or at least people believed that they were. These were the
internal investigation documents from the government looking into this
And this thing, this tapes thing from these restaurants, that had been
simmering for a long time in Polish politics, but when that big document
dump came out, 2,000 pages of the internal investigation documents, that
just blew it open. That was just too much, and boom, in one night, half
the cabinet resigned. A whole bunch of top political advisers to the
ruling party, to the government, resigned. The speaker of the house
resigned. Everybody all in one night, goodbye.
And then the very next day is when Jeb Bush showed up, for his big meeting,
for his big meeting that was supposed to make him look really presidential
and super tough on foreign affairs. And the guy he was scheduled to meet
with was the former foreign minister who had just resigned the night before
in disgrace over him being caught on tape dissing the United States and
talking about how terrible the United States is and how stupid Poland is to
try to maintain a good relationship with the United States and how
worthless it is to have a relationship with the United States.
The day after he had to resign because of talking all that trash about the
United States, the next day, there is Jeb, who doesn`t think to maybe
cancel this photo op. And it`s not a photo op where he`s confronting this
guy and sticking up for the United States and lambasting him for dragging
the country through the mud. He does it as a smiling, shaking hands photo
open. Hey, I like this guy. OK, tough guy.
And then three days later, there was Jeb Bush, formally announcing his
campaign. But nobody remembers it because the day after that, the guy who
christened him “low energy Jeb” started his campaign too.
And now here we are. Jeb Bush to the extent he`s been back in the news
recently, it`s been for his failed effort to buy the Miami Marlins. Trump
meanwhile is president.
And Trump went to Poland today. And that scandal with the secret
microphones end up being really important to what has happened in the world
since and to what happened today. Around the time of the tapes in the
restaurants scandal, in the face of all those resignations from the ruling
party, the ruling party insisted at the time that the whole scandal, the
recording of those conversations, the leaking of those recorded
conversations, the conveniently timed release of all the secret documents
somehow hacked out of the internal investigation, the ruling party that was
really wiped out by that scandal, insisted the whole time while it was
happening that the scandal had been orchestrated by the Russian government,
that Russian intelligence had somehow done this, that it was designed to
bring down the long time ruling party in Poland because that party was seen
as being too friendly to the West, too friendly to the United States.
That allegation never gained much traction with the Polish public. Or if
it did, it didn`t work. And the ruling party did get taken down. Since
then the long time ruling party in Poland has been replaced with a very
right wing, nationalist party that`s seen by its critics as having kind of
a scary authoritarian streak.
They`re called the Law and Justice Party. They have not just pursued
conservative policies. They have changed the structure of their country`s
government in order to consolidate in themselves all forms of political
power. They have taken over the Supreme Court in that country. They have
removed the independent leadership of the secret services in that country.
They have put severe restrictions on the private media. They have taken
over public media to turn it into Russian-style pure pro-government
The previous foreign minister might have privately said some uncouth things
about the United States that he was embarrassed by and had to resign over
when they were exposed. But you know what? The current foreign minister
is happy to say stuff you would not believe and he`s happy to say it in
public. From the new ruling party in Poland, their foreign minister went
on TV last spring and said that Poland, forgive me for what I`m about to
say, said that Poland would no longer have a, quote, negro mentality when
it comes to that country`s relationship with the United States.
I am sorry to repeat his phrasing, but that is what he said. And even in
translation, the Polish version of what he said is just as offensive as the
English version. This is their current foreign minister. He`s also
publicly denounced race mixing, which is nice.
And Poland is not necessarily at ease with its very radical new government.
Remember the giant women`s marches that happened in this country right
after Donald Trump was inaugurated? Those were preceded by – look at
this, by a women`s protest in Poland against draconian new abortion
proposals from their new right wing government. The images from those
women`s protests in Poland were just stunning.
So, there is definitely dissent inside that country against their very
right wing nationalist new government. But this is the government they`ve
got now. The Law and Justice Party says they`re about to start taking over
the lower courts below the Supreme Court as well, which will get them quite
some distance toward what appears to be an authoritarian takeover of what
used to be a democracy. That is the sort of thing a visiting American
president would usually be expected to raise a stink about. Not this one.
Polish media reported ahead of the today`s visit from President Trump, that
the Law and Justice Party, now the ruling party in Poland, they told the
White House that they could guarantee cheering crowds for Trump`s visit
today. Polish media reported that the ruling party planned to bus in
people specifically to cheer for Donald Trump. We don`t know if that`s
part of the reason that President Trump agreed to go to Warsaw today. But
on the Polish side at least, that`s apparently what they offered to get him
After this trip to Poland today, Trump will next go to Germany for the G20
summit, where what was supposed to be a pull-aside face-to-face meeting
between him and Vladimir Putin will now be an official sit-down full
bilateral visit between Trump and Putin. Now, there has not been a meeting
between Vladimir Putin and the U.S. president in almost two years. After
the Obama administration took steps to isolate Putin as punishment for him
invading Ukraine and taking over part of that country, annexing Crimea and
making it part of Russia.
From what used to be an American perspective, Putin earned that isolation
with his international behavior, with his international aggression. From
what is now our American perspective, how exactly has he earned his way out
of that? How has he earned a face-to-face, full scale bilateral meeting
with the U.S. president? What has he done to deserve that meeting in that
Other than launching a massive cyberattack on our presidential election
last year and threatening to shoot down U.S. jets over Syria just a couple
of weeks ago, and sending their Russian fighter jets to buzz American ships
and planes all over the world, and these new credible allegations that
Russian firms are selling weapons and oil to North Korea as North Korea is
shooting off an ICBM. Other than that, what has Putin done to earn this?
Since Crimea, I don`t know. Maybe there`s something that Vladimir Putin
has done that`s really nice alongside that other stuff.
But whatever it is, we, the public, don`t know about it. He is
nevertheless getting a bilateral meeting with the American president
because of something. And whatever you think about how well Jeb Bush did
at running for president, or how well you think any of the other
Republicans did at running for president against Trump, had any of them
been better at it, had Jeb Bush become president or any normal Republican
become president or any Democrat become president, it would be
inconceivable that any of this that`s happening right now would be
happening, from this meeting today in Poland with the Law and Justice
Party, given what they`ve done, to this bilateral meeting face-to-face with
Putin at the G20.
In normal Republican politics, let along in Democratic politics, what is
happening today and what will happen over the course of this week is
inconceivable. We`re in territory now that until recently would not have
been imaginable within American politics.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: “The Daily Beast” reports tonight there is some unusual planning
going on before President Trump meets with Vladimir Putin face-to-face on
Friday. A senior U.S. official tells “The Daily Beast” when it comes to
the U.S. preparation for that meeting, quote, the idea is to get as many
adults in the room as humanly possible. That would be adults in addition
to the president himself.
Specifically, “Daily Beast” is reporting tonight there are efforts to try
to squeeze into the room with Trump and Putin one experienced foreign
policy staffer named Fiona Hill, who is a hawk when it comes to Russia and
who wrote, quote, a critical psychological biography of Vladimir Putin.
So, just think about – take kind of a meta look at this for a second. The
sources for this story in “The Daily Beast” tonight are Trump
administration officials. So, if this reporting is true, that means senior
people working for this president are willing to admit to reporters that
there is reason to worry about what might happen if the president is ever
truly alone with Vladimir Putin. So, they are scheming now to try to not
let that happen, to try to put somebody else in the room who might have a
better idea of how to deal with Vladimir Putin.
Someone who is trying to help from the outside with U.S. preparations for
this meeting is former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who has
just gifted the president and the administration this short cheat sheet in
today`s “Washington Post” entitled, quote, “What Trump needs to read before
Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for joining us tonight, sir.
It`s good to have you here.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Sure. Thanks for having
MADDOW: Let me ask you if you think that it is unusual that President
Trump is getting a bilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin right now.
MCFAUL: It`s somewhat unusual given incredible, the audacious things that
he did. Remember, he`s the first guy that`s annexed territory in Europe
since World War II. He`s the first leader that`s ever attacked us,
violated our sovereignty during the elections. And that`s different from
early, you know, honeymoon periods of other presidents dealing with leaders
from the Kremlin.
That said, I think most of these G20 meetings, you have these bilats, I
think it`s proper for President Trump to meet with them if, in fact, he`s
going to talk about those issues.
If he`s just going to talk about, you know, isn`t it great to get along and
my good friend Vladimir Putin, that will be a giant victory for the
MADDOW: What do you think that the Russians would like to get out of this
meeting? And you wrote about this a little bit in “The Washington Post,”
what should the U.S., the president himself, be on guard in terms of what
the Kremlin is trying to achieve here?
MCFAUL: Well, I`ve been in many meetings with Vladimir Putin, when I
worked at the White House, actually had Fiona Hill`s job, just to – for
the record, back in 2009. It`s crazy that the senior director for Russian
affairs would not be in that meeting.
And if she were in that meeting and briefing the president, I think she
would be warning him that Vladimir Putin wants to be friendly with
President Trump. He wants to say to him, you and I, we can work together,
we can do some big things together. But it`s that fake news you have in
your country, it`s the deep state in your country that`s getting in the
way. But if you work with me, we can do big things.
Here, by the way, to get us off on a good start, Donald, he might call him
Donald, probably not, maybe President Trump, why don`t you lift sanctions
on us, because if you do that, then I guarantee you, you and I can be
friends. That`s a horrible deal for America but that`s a deal that Putin
will be bringing to the table.
MADDOW: What`s the right response to that, if you were counseling a U.S.
president prepared to hear this, what should a U.S. president say in
response to that?
MCFAUL: I think President Trump should say, Vladimir Putin, I am ready and
willing and eager to lift sanctions. I want to lift sanctions. I want to
do business with Russia.
But in order to do so, you have to get out of Ukraine. That`s why the
sanctions were put in place. I want to do business with you and lift those
other sanctions. But in order to do so, you have to pledge to me that
you`re not going to interfere in our elections again. That`s why the
sanctions were put in place.
And to lift them unilaterally, that`s called a concession. That`s called
appeasement. That is not in America`s national interests.
MADDOW: Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, thank you for talking
to us tonight, but thank you for the earnest approach that you took in this
“Washington Post” piece. I think a lot of people are –
MCFAUL: I was trying.
MADDOW: Yes, a lot of people are scared about what was going to happen in
that meeting. But for you to take it on seriously and earnestly and say,
like, don`t be scared, it`s going to happen, let`s make the most of it I
thought was a very civic-minded way to approach it, sir. So thank you for
MCFAUL: I appreciate your comment, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. Thanks.
All right. Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Population of South Korea is about 50 million people. Half of
South Korea`s population lives here in the area immediately surrounding and
including the capital of South Korea, which is Seoul. As you see, it`s
sort of the northern part of South Korea. Unfortunately for the 25 million
people or so who live in and around Seoul, that includes 100,000 American
civilians, 28,000 American troops who are stationed there, Seoul is
situated just a few dozen miles south of the border of North Korea.
And even though the border between North and South is technically a
demilitarized zone, North Korea has been stocking up militarily on its side
for a long time now. They`ve deployed nearly 70 percent of their ground
forces within 60 miles of their border, as well as half of the North Korean
air force. They`ve also got thousands of artillery cannons and rocket
launchers stationed on the border directly facing South Korea and facing
In April, North Korea demonstrated its artillery might off its eastern
coastline in the largest live artillery drill North Korea has ever
conducted. The world is focused on the threat of a nuclear armed, rather
nutty North Korea. But North Korea doesn`t need to use its dozen or so
nuclear weapons if it wants to kill tens of thousands, potentially hundreds
of thousands of civilians, before the U.S. or anybody else could eventually
shut down their capacity to do so.
And that geographical fact is the real life irreducible military constraint
that rings every consideration of what to do about North Korea and their
behavior as a sort of rogue nation. On Monday, North Korea fired what is
believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, which means the
threatening range of not just their conventional capacity but maybe their
nuclear capacity as well, may now reach beyond their nearby enemies, our
allies, South Korea and Japan, their capacity to project force may reach as
far as Alaska.
After the ICBM test, the U.S. and South Korean militaries today did a
missile exercise of their own in response. Today, U.S. Ambassador Nikki
Haley argued for more sanctions against North Korea at the U.N.
What else is really possible here? What does the United States and the
Pentagon consider to be on the menu of available options, now that
something the president said would never happen, an ICBM test, has come to
Joining us now is Courtney Kube. She`s NBC News national security
Courtney, it`s really nice to have you with us here tonight. Thanks for
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Thank you, it`s my
MADDOW: So, President Trump said not long ago that it would never happen
that North Korea would ever test an ICBM, he said it would not happen. How
certain is the Pentagon that this actually was an ICBM test by them?
KUBE: Well, they feel fairly certain that this was – this was a missile
that has the capacity to be an ICBM.
KUBE: So, what`s kind of confusing here is, this missile was fired
directly straight up into the air with this very high and very narrow arch.
So, it flew up into space, and then it landed back in the Sea of Japan,
really only a couple of hundred miles from where it was launched from,
that`s what`s kind of confusing here.
But when you consider the distance it flew going from the land in North
Korea, up into space, and splashing down in the Sea of Japan, that`s when
we see it has a capability of potentially being an ICBM intercontinental
missile which, of course, has – the range sort of varies but the U.S.
military generally considers something that flies about 5,500 kilometers,
about 3,400 miles, something at that range, is considered an
intercontinental ballistic missile.
MADDOW: And, obviously, the whole world has close eyes on North Korea and
their nuclear capability. It`s believed they`ve got a dozen or so nuclear
weapons. What do we know about their ability to put that kind of a warhead
on this kind of a missile?
KUBE: So, what we know is that they haven`t demonstrated that capability.
I don`t know if you would find anyone in the U.S. military at the highest
levels who would say with confidence or certainty that they don`t
absolutely have that capability. I think that they`re hopeful they do not,
since they haven`t demonstrated or tested it.
But what people don`t realize is, you know, this missile that they tested
last night, it`s basically – it`s a KN-17 with a reentry vehicle that`s
added onto the top. So, it`s what the military calls a two-stage. Some of
these missiles that North Korea is testing now are wider, they have a wider
base. So, the miniaturization process isn`t as difficult as some might
think. They don`t actually have to miniaturize the warhead as small as
they have on some of these other missiles.
So, at this point, we don`t believe they have that capability yet. But
what we saw yesterday is they are making rapid advancements in their
program. I don`t think at this point it`s even fair to say they have an
ICBM capability, that they are a confident ICBM nation, because the way
they tested this, it`s not something that would necessarily be able to fly
in a straight trajectory yet.
But the fact that they`re testing it on such an aggressive schedule shows
that, you know, they`re moving forward. Every time they test, even when
they fail, when a test fails, which this one doesn`t seem to have, they`re
learning. It`s just like the U.S. nuclear missile program was years ago.
They failed and failed, they had a 60 percent failure rate at one point.
But every time they learned and got better and better and better.
North Korea is demonstrating not just that capability, but that intent at
MADDOW: Courtney Kube, NBC News national security producer, this story is
always lurking in the background. We are told that Barack Obama warned
Donald Trump on his way into office that this was basically the number one
threat in the world. I have a feeling we`re going to be talking to you a
lot about it in the coming days as the U.S. decides how they`re going to
Thank you, Courtney. I appreciate you being here with us.
KUBE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On Thursday, just before the holiday break, “The Wall Street
Journal” published what appears to be the first evidence of an American
effort to collude with, cooperate with the Russian attack on our election
last year. “Wall Street Journal” reporter Shane Harris spoke with a long
time Republican operative who told him around Labor Day weekend last year,
he mounted an effort to put together a team of technology experts and
investigators and lawyers who would reach out to Russian hackers, hackers
he thought would be close to the Russian government, to try to obtain from
them e-mails they might have hacked from Hillary Clinton.
The Republican operative`s goal was essentially to obtain those stolen
Clinton e-mails from Russian hackers and then use whatever is in them to
try to harm Hillary Clinton`s election chances.
Now, that Republican operative, his name is Peter Smith. He has a long
history in Republican politics and oppo research and dirty tricks,
specifically against the Clintons. Smith was 81 years old. He died
shortly after being interviewed by “The Wall Street Journal” earlier this
Peter Smith said he had been working independently, that he wasn`t a part
of the Trump campaign, but as “The Journal” reported, he told other people
at the time he was putting together this effort, he told them repeatedly
that he was working with people from the Trump campaign. Specifically he
said multiple times to multiple people that he was working with then-senior
adviser to the Trump campaign, Mike Flynn.
That was the initial reporting from “The Journal” on Thursday. On Friday,
“The Wall Street Journal” posted a follow-up. Reporting that in his
attempt to recruit others to his caught, Peter Smith circulated a document
which named a lot more Trump campaign officials who are incidentally
serving in the administration. In addition to Michael Flynn, the document
that Smith circulated also listed White House advisors Steve Bannon and
Kellyanne Conway, as well as policy adviser Sam Clovis.
The section of the document that listed those people was fold by the words,
quote, in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent
So, that was the follow-up story from “The Wall Street Journal.” We
reported that on the show Friday night, as that news broke. That same
night, after the show, another shoe dropped in this story when one of the
people who was contacted by Peter Smith about these efforts to get Hillary
Clinton`s e-mails from the Russian hackers, one of the guys who was sort of
in on it, who knew about it in real-time, he published his version of
The title of his piece at the “Lawfare” blog was, “The time I got recruited
to collude with the Russians.” His name, as you can see the byline there,
is Matt Tait. He`s a British cybersecurity expert.
He says this Republican operative, Peter Smith, contacted him last July in
the heat of the campaign, asking for his help in authenticating supposed
Clinton documents that he had obtained from Russian hackers. Matt Tait is
very explicit that Peter Smith clearly didn`t care if he had to collude
with the Russian government in order to get these documents that might hurt
And although he can`t definitively prove it, Matt Tait says it`s his belief
that Peter Smith was operating in coordination with the Trump campaign when
he made these efforts. Quote: My perception then was that the inclusion of
Trump campaign officials on this document was not merely a name dropping
exercise. This document was about establishing a company to conduct
opposition research on behalf of the campaign but operating at a distance
so as to avoid campaign reporting.
Tait goes on, quote: The combination of Smith`s deep knowledge of the inner
workings of the campaign, this document naming him in the Trump campaign
group and the multiple references to needing to avoid campaign reporting
suggested to me that the group was formed with the blessing of the Trump
So, Peter Smith, putting together this effort, listing members of the Trump
campaign who he`s operating with, coordinating with to the extent available
by law, but when it comes to listing the Trump campaign people who were
involved in this effort, he lists himself under the subheading Trump
Joining us now, Shane Harris, senior writer for “The Wall Street Journal,”
he broke the story about the Republican operative trying to get Hillary
Mr. Harris, thank you very much for being here tonight. I really
SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Hi, Rachel. Thanks
for having me. .
MADDOW: So, we`ve talked about this since you first broke this story on
Thursday night, let me ask, first of all, if I`ve summarized what`s
happened since then accurately and if you`ve got anything to add to that
report thus far.
HARRIS: No, you summarized it perfectly accurately. The only thing I`ll
say in addition is Matt Tait, who I`ve known for sometime and has now come
out publicly as a source on this story, is a highly credible individual,
and has never been someone who I have known to exaggerate or say more than
he knows and believes. So, I think that essay that he wrote for “Lawfare`
is well worth reading.
MADDOW: Now, in terms of his involvement here, he is not a U.S. citizen,
nor does he appear at least from what we know about him to have had
partisan leanings in our election. Is it your sense that he might have
been involved in this, to the extent he was, because he was trying to hurt
Hillary Clinton`s chances, trying to help the Trump campaign?
HARRIS: No, not at all, far from it. In fact, Matt didn`t really have a
dog in that fight.
Peter Smith contacted Matt, as he told this to me and is now clear from the
facts coming out, because he was aware of that Matt, who has quite a
Twitter following, actually, had been commenting during the release of
under the Freedom of Information Act of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from her
server and offering his expert opinion of what the makeup of that server
might have been, really kind of coming at it from a technical analysis
point of view. And Peter Smith sought him out.
I think Peter Smith may have assumed to some degree, based on my reporting,
that matt was sort of allied in this idea with Peter Smith of exposing
Hillary Clinton. But clearly, that was not the case and ultimately Matt
Tait did not go forward with Peter Smith in this effort that he tried to
recruit him for to get these e-mails from Russian hackers.
MADDOW: And, Shane, in your reporting, you`re very clear about the fact
that there`s no indication that Smith was working for the Trump campaign
when he was doing this. You describe it as being an independent effort in
support of Trump`s campaign, but independent from the campaign. In Matt
Tait`s write-up on this, he`s basically saying Smith described himself as
being part of the Trump campaign, that he listed his own name under the
subheading “Trump campaign” when he was circulating this document which
listed all these people who were either involved in or somehow at least
being read in on what this effort was all about.
Does that seem contradictory to you?
HARRIS: I don`t think so. I think what we`re dealing with right now is
trying to understand the degree of connection between these two worlds. I
will say for the first part, you know, it is clear that Peter Smith knew
people in the Trump campaign. He knew Mike Flynn. That is not in dispute.
They were in communications or understanding. Whether it was about this
particular thing I think is still a matter for more reporting.
Kellyanne Conway told us that she had known Peter Smith but hadn`t seen him
in some time. Matt came away with this impression after several
conversations with Peter Smith that he was holding himself out as someone
involved in the campaign. We want to be very careful in our own reporting
that we`re just saying as much as we know at this point, and that was very
much Matt`s impression at the time.
But I think the idea that somehow Peter Smith was some completely unknown
entity to people in the Trump campaign doesn`t really hold up. I thought
it was very notable that a Trump campaign official told us for our first
story that if Peter Smith was engaged with General Flynn in some kind of
coordination, that was something that General Flynn was doing on his own as
a private citizen.
I`m not sure where the campaign draws that distinction between when he`s on
campaign time and when he`s on private time. But it was very notable that
they did not come out and say that there was nothing to this, that they
were only trying to sort of bifurcate this role that Mike Flynn had in the
campaign of being national security adviser and, ultimately White House
national security adviser and private citizen, and holding out the
possibility that he may have been doing things in the latter role.
MADDOW: And that, of course, may have something to do with the other big
half of your scoop, which was that investigators have seen intelligence
reports that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain Clinton e-
mails and get them through an intermediary to Mike Flynn. If those
intelligence reports exist and are accurate and those observations were in
fact recorded and true, it`s going to be hard for the Trump campaign to
mount a defense about this saying that nothing ever happened. They`ll
instead need an explanation for why it happening doesn`t implicate them,
HARRIS: I think that`s right. I think those intelligence reports are a
very important piece of this. That you contemporaneous to this activity
that Peter Smith is engaged in, you have Russian hackers talking about
something that looks an awful lot like what Peter Smith was doing. So,
this is another key data point in this that kind of undercuts any idea that
this was just Peter Smith making something up.
I mean, there is really sort of an echo at the very least that sounds like
what he is doing, and that`s something that`s certainly, you know, at “The
Journal” we`re digging into, investigating further.
MADDOW: Shane Harris, senior writer at the “Wall Street Journal” – really
appreciate your time tonight, Shane. Thanks for being here.
HARRIS: Thanks, Rachel. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here`s something to watch for overnight tonight and into tomorrow.
The great state of Virginia has a Democratic governor right now, Terry
McAuliffe. He said he is personally opposed to the death penalty, but
there have been two executions carried out since McAuliffe has been
That said, 9:00 tomorrow night, Virginia is scheduled to execute a man
whose family and friends and lawyers contend is seriously mentally ill and
delusional. Right up through these very last hours, over the next 23
hours, supporters of this man and people who are concerned about this
execution have been mounting an increasingly intense campaign to try to
convince Terry McAuliffe to stop this particular execution.
NBC News has been reporting on this. They describe a coalition of groups
from mental health advocates to clergy to the European Union and the United
Nations, all calling for a reprieve in this execution based specifically on
this man`s mental state.
“The Washington Post” has been reporting on this case for years. They`ve
documented what the man`s mental state looked like to people around him.
Just after high school, “The Post” reports he was known to have walked
barefoot in winter and sometimes slept in the Jefferson national forest
buried in piles of leaves. He confided in family and friends about what he
said were the special powers he possessed to fix the world`s problems.
Friends say he became consumed by unusual eating patterns. He would eat
large amounts of raw meat and nuts and pinecones.
When he was 20 years old, Virginia tech police found him after 9:00 in the
evening half naked on the floor of a women`s bathroom on campus. Nearly
two years later, he showed up to his father`s funeral barefoot and
disheveled. He told his mother not long after the funeral that he was
training to live in the wild because he had been chosen on to fight on
behalf of Native Americans.
About a year later, he was charged, according to his lawyers, for a series
of poorly executed armed robberies and thefts. He spent a year in jail
awaiting trial. His mental health there reportedly deteriorated. His
lawyers say he came to believe he was in jail because somebody wanted him
That reportedly led him to attempt an escape from jail in 2006. During
that escape, he killed an unarmed hospital security guard and a sheriff`s
deputy. In 2008, for those crimes, he was sentenced to die. His lawyers
say it was not made clear at trial how separated from reality he was.
Today, NBC News reports it`s not clear whether he`s even aware right now of
this remarkable effort under way in Virginia tonight to try to win him
clemency. That`s in part because he has refused to see his mother or his
lawyers for years because he believes that they too are part of a grand
conspiracy to kill him.
And tomorrow night, he will be executed unless Governor Terry McAuliffe
steps in and stops it. Again, McAuliffe is a Democrat and is personally
opposed to the death penalty. This is not your typical death penalty case,
and the effort to try to stop this one is, as I say, getting more and more
intense over the course of today, into tonight, and watch for it tomorrow.
Terry McAuliffe reportedly still considering this matter late tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Heads up. Tomorrow night on this show, we`ve got a little bit of
a scoop. This is a story that is definitely exclusive to us. It is
something that we kind of stumbled into without trying to find it, but we
We have been working for weeks now to nail it down. It is finally ready to
go. I am almost sure that we are going to have it for you tomorrow night.
And I encourage you to check it out. It`s a weird story.
As I say, I won`t say more than that. Tomorrow night, see you again then.
It is now time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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